Today I logged into Facebook and, as usual, right on top was a Facebook memory. A photo from 2012 captioned, “Gorgeous day on the boat.” It features my husband, my daughter, an old friend and her son. It didn’t make me happy, though. It made me incredibly sad since I am no longer friends with that person — or her family. I clicked through to look at the other photos Facebook wanted me to remember. Looking at them hurt. They reminded me that I lost someone who was like a family member. Four someones, actually.
One photo was of my friend’s kid and Little Girl making faces in a mirror. Another was my friend’s husband lying on a raft. Another photo was of my older daughter beaming, sitting next to my friend’s son and her husband.
Yes, all of the photos remind me of the loss my whole family suffered when that friendship died. The worst part is I am not exactly sure why it died. I have an idea, though.
For the past two years I’ve been spending every moment trying to climb out of hell (or working when I felt well enough) so it wasn’t that I did anything that you would think would end a friendship. We didn’t fight. We didn’t have a disagreement. I didn’t call her names or ruin her favorite sweater. When I look back I remember all the good times — and those good times comprised about 99.9 percent of our time together. And yet she cut me out of her life. I think it was because I was behaving co-dependently.
I come to this conclusion after discussing it (a lot) in therapy and reading and re-reading every single email and text I sent her over the past three years. While I uncovered one thing I did — blogging about something that her husband did — at the time she told me she was upset, and it was over. I took the post down and apologized immediately. It wasn’t a friendship killer. No, instead, I think it was a handful of texts and emails we exchanged with me bemoaning her interaction with a girl we both knew. While the girl-in-common often acted unkind and childish — she always had to prove that she was the better friend — my reactions to their interactions were wrong.
For instance, one time I complimented my friend on a bracelet she had on. The mutual friend immediately piped up, “Oh, I have one, too! We got them when we went away together! They are our friendship bracelets!” I shouldn’t have taken the bait — even though what she said was something that would normally come out of a teen’s mouth instead of a 30-something woman’s — but I did. I felt jealous and sad and upset. Later, I brought the comment up to my friend, saying how upset the girl’s words made me. She told me that they were absolutely not friendship bracelets, and that she didn’t know what the girl was talking about. She was buying one and the other girl decided to buy one, too. However, she shouldn’t have had to say a word because I never should have been upset by it to begin with.
Another time the mutual friend went on and on about how her child and my friend’s child FaceTimed every morning. That they were so close. Again, it made me feel less-than. I got hurt. I felt threatened. Basically, I felt that if my friend (or her child) liked the other girl (or her child) more than me I was worthless. Sad, isn’t it? Especially since my friend told me time and again how special our relationship was and how she didn’t confide in that girl. She and the girl weren’t the same type of friends we were. Looking back, I feel ashamed and sad. Why did I have to question my friend? Why couldn’t I feel confident in her love and friendship? The evidence was there that she cared about me a lot, but even if it wasn’t: The other girl’s relationship with my friend had nothing to do with me!
Those are just two examples. However, I can see now that many of the conversations and interactions tied to that other girl brought out my tendency toward co-dependency.
Childhood Strikes Again
What is co-dependence? Well, it’s something that happens when you grow up in a dysfunctional home. WebMD has a great definition: “The first step in getting things back on track is to understand the meaning of a codependent relationship. Experts say it’s a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.”
My therapist first brought up the concept based on some other work I was doing. Soon after, I found a website that had a more complete description of the problem and it hit me. I was co-dependent and I never even knew it. The biggest ah-ha moment however was when, after going through an “Are you co-dependent” questionnaire, I saw how many times I answered yes. (Keep in mind that I took the questionnaire at the beginning of the summer before starting to work on it in therapy. My answers would be very different if I took it today — at least on many of them. Undoing years of co-dependent feelings takes a while.) Here’s the questionnaire as well as my answers from four months ago:
1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments? YES
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you? YES
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem? NO
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you? (Not lived with but dated.)
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own? YES
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home? YES
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends? YES
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be? NO
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others? YES
10. Have you ever felt inadequate? YES
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake? YES
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts? YES, YES, YES
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake? YES
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts? YES
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done? YES
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss? NO
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life? NO
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help? YES, YES, YES
19. Do you have trouble asking for help? YES, YES, YES
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them? YES!!!
Since realizing I have a co-dependent personality, it’s like a weight has been lifted. Things are so much clearer. Now, if someone excludes me or someone isn’t kind — guess what? — I don’t assume it is because of me! I don’t attach any feelings or emotions to their actions. My self-worth isn’t tied to what people say or do — or don’t do. And since I don’t think that I need to do things to get people to like me, I only do things that I want to do. If I am kind, it’s because I want to be not because unconsciously I feel like I have to be.
Today, while I am sorry I lost my friend, I am so glad I learned a lesson. I am glad my eyes are open to who I am and the tendencies I have. I know it will take a while longer to be completely done with my journey, but I am looking forward to continuing to grow and watching my current friendships blossom — and making new ones.